It must have been a slow day at the Knoxville News-Sentinel sports department last Friday-- one of those rare days when no University of Tennessee athletes were being arrested or sentenced.
One of the tired hacks at that award-winning newspaper filled his space with some claptrap suggesting that, amid all the talk of conference realignment, the Southeastern Conference should seize the opportunity to give Vanderbilt the boot.
That's right, you heard me. This columnist strung together over 600 words explaining why the SEC should shred whatever little remaining dignity it has by expelling Vanderbilt, a seventy-year charter member. Vanderbilt... the one self-respecting, law-abiding member the conference has left. Yeah, makes perfect sense.
How, pray tell, did this insightful genius of a columnist arrive at such a preposterous conclusion? Vanderbilt, alleged John Adams (in a column that also appeared on the website "GoVols.com"), has not been competitive in the almighty sport of football, and is not "pulling its weight" as a revenue-producer for the conference.
Adams opined that Rod Dowhower / Woody Widenhofer may have been the worst back-to-back coaching hires in the history of football. (Oh really? Worse than Alabama's trifecta of Mike Dubose / Dennis Franchione / Mike Price? If we're using quality of football coach hires as a criterion, the SEC should really dismiss the Tide, which since 1980 has had two more coaching changes than Vanderbilt.)
Adams also charged that at the 1998 UT game in Nashville, fans of the "Big" Orange outnumbered Vandy fans by about 40 to 1. (I was there, and Vol fans certainly had the upper hand... but 40 to 1??? Does Adams hold a math degree from UT too?)
Has Adams been on vacation through the past month, one wonders? He conveniently ignored the fact that, in just the month of May, Vanderbilt...
- Swept Tennessee in baseball, qualified for the SEC Tournament, and prevented the Vols from doing the same.
- Won the SEC Tournament in men's tennis, represented the SEC in the NCAA Championship match, and finished with a No. 4 national ranking.
- Advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in women's tennis, while eliminating the Lady Vols along the way.
In fact, if one looks at the men's team sports of football, basketball, baseball and tennis... Vanderbilt's record vs. Tennessee the past school year was 4-3. Oops!
What was Adams thinking when he submitted this journalistic masterpiece for publication? Must've been that rarefied air over on Rocky Top.
I suppose he's entitled to his opinion-- even if it is almost as worthless as a UT diploma.
But as a Vanderbilt fan (one of about three still remaining in the world, according to Adams), I'm entitled to mine as well. Allow me to suggest that if the SEC were ever to get serious about identifying a charter member to jettison... it need look no further than them thar hills of East Tennessee.
Give the University of Tennessee (motto: "Nollidge is good") a check mark for being able to produce revenue from athletics-- then, check them out. Since when is college athletics about which school can produce the most revenue-- especially when it comes at the expense of academic integrity? Isn't that exactly the tarnished image that new SEC Commissioner Mike Slive wants to shed?
When it comes to graduating its players and keeping the SEC scandal-free, Tennessee simply doesn't pull its weight, hasn't in forever. The Vols, the poster child for everything that's gone horribly wrong with college athletics, bring little to the table when it comes to remaking the SEC's image as an outlaw league. Between the Tee Martin affair, the Eric Locke saga, and allegations of academic fraud, the Vols have brought more embarrassment, shame and adverse notoriety to the conference in just the past twelve months than Vanderbilt has in the SEC's 70-year history.
By giving Tennessee the boot, the conference could rid itself once and for all of the embarrassment from having a member institution with a single-digit football graduation rate. (I could, at this point, bring up Vanderbilt's graduation rate, but what would be the sport in that?)
And it's not as though Tennessee contributors are getting a big return on their dollar. With an annual athletic budget of over $55 million, with one of the finest football facilities in the nation, don't Vol fans and SEC fans have a right to expect better than the out-of-conference drubbings administered last year by Miami and Maryland?
Don't you think by now that with all that tradition UT would have produced at least one Heisman Trophy winner? Just one? Tennessee has exactly the same number of those that Vanderbilt has. (Hint: It's the same as the number of Pulitzers that have been awarded over the years to John Adams.)
Poor hires, eh? One need not go far back into UT's men's basketball history to find some regrettable ones.
Meanwhile the esteemed state university recently spent untold thousands of taxpayer dollars on a lengthy, nationwide search for a new Director of Athletics... only ultimately to promote Associate A.D. Mike Hamilton. (Heck, if we had known President Shumaker was going to hire from within, we could have pointed out that the ideal candidate-- Professor Linda Bensel-Meyers-- was right under his nose.)
Could UT athletics survive without the SEC? You bet it could. Pat Summitt's Lady Vols could take their rightful place in the WNBA-- while the football team might even look to join the NFL (provided the players weren't averse to taking a pay cut).
Sure, look hard enough at any of the SEC's member institutions, and you'll find some shortcomings. Football is still the straw that stirs the drink, and Vanderbilt needs to improve its football program, that's for sure.
But who is Adams to say that it can't? And despite what the more helmet-headed denizens of ObKnoxville may think, the SEC is about much more than football. Universities are still in the education business... and college athletics is about much more than producing revenue.
Here's a thought... by dumping Tennessee and admitting Virginia Tech... the SEC could instantly: (1) expand into another populous state, (2) boost its collective graduation rate, (3) give the conference's image a much-needed face-lift... and (4) maintain its hold on the hillbilly demographic.
Ludicrous, say you Tennessee fans? Outrageous? It makes about as much sense as anything Adams said.
Contact Brent at firstname.lastname@example.org